Almost 20 years ago, a generous donation to the Town of Leesburg came in the form of 138 acres of vacant property. While much of that land remains untouched, save for necessary maintenance, at its epicenter is some of the active recreation uses most craved by town residents— a recreation center, tennis facility and outdoor water park, all of which in their relatively early existence have created a following that goes beyond the town’s borders.
But perhaps what town residents have come most to prize over the years is the acres of land that remain passive—the rolling hills and fields that allow for a leisurely afternoon stroll, a game of catch, a vibrant walk with a canine companion, or even a great seat to catch the annual Fourth of July fireworks.
Leesburg sits at a critical crossroads, as its leaders decide how much of the town’s open space to open up for development, or how older developments can be transformed into thriving commercial spaces. In a series of articles, Loudoun Now will highlight properties that have the potential for major development, or redevelopment. Both Ida Lee’s current property—often under consideration for more recreational attractions, including a skate park—and the property to its east, proposed for residential development, are among several key properties in town that may soon see big changes.
The Rust family began the process of donating 138 acres, known as Greenwood Farm, to the Town of Leesburg in 1985. The family had few stipulations for how the land would be used, other than desiring that it not have a pass-through road disturbing the land, and that it be named for William F. Rust Jr.’s grandmother Ida Lee.
“Everything we’ve done we’ve tried to do it right and make sure it all ties in together without having a significant impact to the agrarian and natural feel of the park,” said Parks and Recreation Director Rich Williams, who has witnessed firsthand much of the growth in the park over the last decade.
Over the years, uses have been added. The recreation center and Rust Library attracted their share of regular patrons, and the soccer and lacrosse fields along the northern and eastern edges of the park have been a staple for local leagues. After a generous $5.25 million bequest by the late A.V. Symington, parks and recreation staff polled residents as to what they would like to see added to the park property. In a nod to the desire to keep most of the park passive, the overwhelming majority favored using the funds to acquire land to the east of the park, about 40 acres owned by the O’Connor family. Adding an outdoor pool/water park and tennis center came in second and third, respectively.
Unfortunately for the town, it soon became clear that the money donated by Symington would not be nearly sufficient to acquire the land. And now that property could soon be the site of some new development.
Bill Ackman, head of the town’s Plan Review Department, confirmed that there is an active subdivision application on the property. The proposal allows for 28 single-family homes on one-acre lots. The applicant recently got an extension on the application to keep it active; otherwise it would have expired this February.
Williams said that he believes the new development, if it does go forward, will not pose a major impact to Ida Lee, but town staff will make sure it is respectful of any new neighbors when planning events on parkland.
With land acquisition out of the question, the funds donated by Symington did make possible the opening of a tennis center in 2007 and outdoor water park in 2009. But since then, there has not been much change to report at the park. And while the master plan for Ida Lee shows little in the way of major future projects—the addition of another field, as well as more parking and a wedding garden, are among the few small uses listed—the goal remains to keep much of the property undisturbed, Williams said.
“You’ve got to have that mix of active and passive recreation in my opinion; that’s what makes Ida Lee so special,” Williams said. “The community, the staff and everybody is very protective of the park and want to keep it that way. It’s not just staff driven; it comes from the community as well.”
But that does not mean there have not been attempts to place other uses within the park’s confines. In recent years, both the dog park, currently housed at Olde Izaak Walton Park, and the skate park in Catoctin Circle have been brought up by council members as perhaps being best located at Ida Lee Park.
Rob Fulcer, a 14-year member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said commissioners were opposed to the placement of the skate park within Ida Lee.
“Some of us have seen some particular parks just become so jammed you can’t get in and out,” he said.
He said the goal of commissioners, and town staff as well, has been to keep the active uses to the middle of the park, with the outer border mostly open space.
In this occasional series, Loudoun Now will take a close look at key properties in the Town of Leesburg. Many of these properties have the potential, some with active plan review applications, to be the cite of some major development, or redevelopment, projects in the town.